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“Epiphenomenal Qualia”: Knowledge Argument and Identity Thesis Term Paper


The work under consideration is a well-known philosophy treatise Epiphenomenal Qualia by Frank Jackson in which the author first presented the Knowledge Argument in 1982. The main idea of the work is that the author firmly opposes physicalism. The general argument Jackson adheres to is that physicalism blunders in terms of denying the existence of the subjective experience. To be more exact, Jackson states that knowing all physical processes is not enough to present knowledge of mental experience. There have been many debates for the past several years over this issue. However, it is not proved entirely if Jackson is right in his attempts to refute all forms of physicalism. Therefore, his knowledge argument objects to the identity thesis because not all actions and states are of physical nature.

Statement of the Identity Thesis

According to Carruthers, all states and procedures initiated by brain can refer to the outcomes of some physical events and processes. The scientist states that “…a strong version of materialism…all mental states and events are in fact physical states and events” (Carrythers 148). Therefore, the identity thesis can be considered a variant of phyisicalism which implies that the things and object in the world refer to words and terms created by people.

Clear Statement of the Jackson’s Argument

The main concept of Jackson’s argument. According to Jackson, information provided by such sciences as chemistry, biology, and physics cannot purely reflect all processes, states and objects because there some ‘qualias’ that describes some perceptual experiences that do not have connection to any type of physical information. This includes, “…the hurtfulness of pains, the itchiness of itches, pangs of jealousy, or about the characteristic experience of tasting a lemon” (Jackson 127).

Jackson’s position also rejects the fact that physical information is an unquestionable intuition. There are things and object that bear nothing physical, like the smell of a rose, etc. So, in case we follow the knowledge argument provided by Jackson, it is possible to say that there are facts about human conscious actions that are simply left out by physicalists. Therefore, the latter are wrong.

Explaining the preconditions of making the argument. Let us touch upon the experiments held by the Jackson. The first one narrates about Mary who had spent her life in a black-and-white room and had no color sensitive experience – she never saw colorful pictures or anything else in color. However, she tries to find out what color is through learning about it by studying everything about seeing world in color.

She used to watch lectures on a black-and-white film. If physicalism was true, then Mary would get an experience of colorful life-style through mere theoretical skills. Nevertheless, once she decides to venture out in the outside world, the unbelievable thing happens: she actually learns how to see in color and what it is like. Hence Jackson’s Knowledge Argument is that the physicalism is false.

Almost everybody learning the experiments held by Jackson are about to admit that Mary learns something when released, though not everybody adopt the same. One of the counter pleas is that Mary was capable of distinguishing colors way before leaving the room due to using cerebroscopes. She would be able to recognize colors from the first color experiences; hence, she would not be deceived by a blue banana. This clearly presents the opposite view of Jackson’s experiment and need for defense.

Explaining the conclusion of the argument. The experiments conducted by Jackson inference several conclusions. First of all, Jackson’s argument proves that qualia are expelled from this experiment and, therefore, it is difficult to identify the central argument that it is possible to find out all physical information without having all necessary information for identifying that (Jackson 130). Secondly, the scientist also concludes that “…all certain properties of certain mental states, namely those [he]’ve called qualia, are such that their possession or absence makes no different to the physical world. ” (Jackson 130).

Finally, Jackson bases his assumption of the Darwin’s evolution. In particular, he believes that if evolution includes that the evolving traits resulted in natural selection can be conductive to physical survival. In similar way, there are qualia possessed by people that evolved and there are some that were expelled due to the natural selection, but they do not anything in common with physical world.

Using Conclusions to Identify the Identity Thesis

In order to show how the argument of Jackson can be used to show that the identity thesis is false, it needs to be mentioned that information adopted by brain is completely different from the information acquired from the experience physical acts. The Knowledge Argument explicitly demonstrates how mental ability goes apart from physical experience. This is supported by marvelous examples from the experiments carried out.

The experiments involved a protagonist Mary who proved that the knowledge acquired through watching black-and-white TV and learning about color-sighted way of life is not enough to get ready for real experience of physical actions. Therefore, it can be truly admitted that Jackson’s counterargument to identity thesis was efficient enough in terms of experiment holding and subsequent conclusions made.

Defenders of the Identity Thesis as a Respond to Jackson’s Argument

Another idea of the identity thesis to be wrong is that Mary must have had just acquaintance with knowledge upon her release. She just gets to know what color is like a person gets acquainted with another person. However, this argument may sound controversial too, as becoming acquainted with color qualia is somewhat different from becoming acquainted with a person.

So, the purpose of this term paper is to find out whether Mary learns new facts when released from the black-and-white room or not; and whether this means that physicalism theory is wrong. So, in order to understand this we have to know exactly what physicalism is. As per Jackson, he claims that all information/facts are physical. Therefore, if physicalism is true then everything that an average person knows about the color should have been known to Mary before her release. This may sound trivial, but it is not, to my point of view.

A well-know philosopher Peter Carruthers rejects Jackson’s Knowledge Argument because Carruthers does not find cohesiveness among Jackson’s opinions, hence his theory is invalid (Carrupthers 150). It is hard to adopt new things thought the world of science, especially philosophy.


In summary, Jackson provides an unconventional view on physical information. At the same time, the scientist sheds light on some ambiguous details of human’s perception of the world. Although his opposition to the identity thesis is consistent and evidence-based, there are still logical explanations of limitation to his argument as presented by other philosophers. Everything is quite relative in this world, so even though many experiments did take place in order to prove the qualia epiphenomenalism, it is hard to reach one certain opinion as there will always be thousands in opposition.

Works Cited

Carruthers, Peter. The nature of the mind: an introduction. NJ: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Jackson, Frank. Epiphenomenal Qualia first appeared in Philosophical Quarterly, 32 (1982), pp. 127-236.

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""Epiphenomenal Qualia": Knowledge Argument and Identity Thesis." IvyPanda, 24 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/epiphenomenal-qualia-knowledge-argument-and-identity-thesis/.

1. IvyPanda. ""Epiphenomenal Qualia": Knowledge Argument and Identity Thesis." June 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/epiphenomenal-qualia-knowledge-argument-and-identity-thesis/.


IvyPanda. ""Epiphenomenal Qualia": Knowledge Argument and Identity Thesis." June 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/epiphenomenal-qualia-knowledge-argument-and-identity-thesis/.


IvyPanda. 2020. ""Epiphenomenal Qualia": Knowledge Argument and Identity Thesis." June 24, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/epiphenomenal-qualia-knowledge-argument-and-identity-thesis/.


IvyPanda. (2020) '"Epiphenomenal Qualia": Knowledge Argument and Identity Thesis'. 24 June.

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